Any time you take a stab at an imperial list ranking talents ranging across decades, there is always some push back. So let’s bring some logic into it to list the top Notre Dame quarterbacks of all time.
Rules Of The Game
First, we have to lay the ground rules.
Each quarterback will be rated on a fair scale calculated by the following:
- Post-Season Win – 30 Points Per Win
- National Championship Bonus – 70 Points Per Win
- Games Started – 2 Points Per Start
- Total Touchdowns – 2 Points Per Touchdown (Passing + Rushing)
- Total Wins – 5 Points Per Victory
- Ten+ Win Seasons – 5 Points Per Ten+ Wins**
- Heisman Trophy Winner – 25 Points Per
Football is a team sport, but as a quarterback individual statistics do play a big factor in a team’s success – so let me explain why I selected the criteria above.
Post-Season Win/Nation Championship
To even the playing field, I had to add weight to the National Championships – the ultimate goal of every season.
Back in the day, the Associated Press crowned the champs – there was not a fancy bowl game. Notre Dame did not appear in a documented bowl game between 1925 and 1970 – so a few of these legends theoretically miss out on the post-season win, but were fairly compensated with a bonus for the national championship.
In today’s day and age, a bowl game signifies a successful season, so qualifying quarterbacks were awarded points for finishing the year strong with a win.
In addition, I believe this scale properly accounts for the “inflation” or progression of the college football landscape.
*In order to qualify for post-season win/national championship bonus, the player must have been the starter for at least 51% of the season or played major role of post-season game.
Games Started/ Total Wins/ Ten+ Win Seasons
Sure, this is a completely subjective take – but, in order to be listed as the greatest quarterback in the history of Notre Dame, you need to have cemented a legacy. This gives fair credit to the quarterbacks who “did it right” by playing out all of their eligibility. It also penalizes players that had a chance to return but opted to leave early for the NFL.
For fairness, wins were counted – after all, it is the precursor to the ultimate goal of a national championship.
**An added bonus for reaching what I call ten+ win seasons. Here and now in 2019, it means ten wins or more, but since there were teams in the 1940’s that did not even play a total of ten games, if teams won 10/12’s of their games, or 83.3%, they qualified for Ten+.
Hail The Heisman
The highly coveted award is part of the nostalgia of Notre Dame football. While only two players on the list brought home the honors, they represented the University of Notre Dame on the plateau of college football. Back when these brave soldiers played (literally, they were active military) the game was played a much different pace. To equalize, they received additional points for bringing the Heisman home to South Bend.
TOP NOTRE DAME QUARTERBACKS OF ALL TIME
*Denotes Active Player
#10 – Ian Book* – 313 TOTAL POINTS
Much to the dismay of the haters, Book snuck onto the list of top quarterbacks of all time for Notre Dame in the tenth spot. What is most impressive is what he has done in his limited number of starts. Book also received the credit for the Citrus Bowl victory against LSU as he was the spark that lead the Irish to the comeback victory. With an entire season of eligibility left, Book still has a chance to leap frog these greats if he plays as well as we expect him to.
#9 – Jimmy Clausen – 318 TOTAL POINTS
Coming in as a five-star recruit, Clausen had some high expectations. While he only ended up bringing the Irish 18 wins, he had some big time passing numbers in his 34 starts. His 60 passing touchdowns is third all-time for Notre Dame. Impressive considering he declared for the draft after his junior year.
#8 –Tommy Rees – 331 TOTAL POINTS
Alas, the future offensive coordinator the 2020 Fighting Irish. (unconfirmed) Rees’ play was never sexy, and at times was ineffective but what he lacked his physical ability he made up for with his brains. Rees is third in passing yards and second in passing touchdowns and while he never led ND to ten+ wins, he did leave is legacy with a post-season victory in the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.
#7 – Ron Powlus – 347 TOTAL POINTS
Powlus came in at the tail end of the Lou Holtz era. Expectations could not have been any higher after Kevin McDougal’s luck ran out in 1993. Even though McDougal may be one of the best one-and-done quarterbacks in Irish history.
Powlus missed the 1993 season with a broken collarbone. But in his time, from 1994-1997, the Irish did not win a single bowl game nor reach ten wins.
All this considered, Powlus ended up fourth on the list of all-time passing yards and fifth for passing touchdowns.
#6 – Joe Montana – 368 TOTAL POINTS
Joe “Cool” is the first QB1 so far on this list to deliver Notre Dame a National Championship. Even with Montana missing the 1976 season with a shoulder injury, he was able to return under Dan Devine in comeback-kid fashion.
Montana was not even considered the back-up QB heading into the 1977 season, but it was he who stepped up to the plate when he got a second chance and ran the table for the Irish. He brought ND their 12th national championship.
#5 –Rick Mirer – 398 TOTAL POINTS
Another by-product of Holtz, Mirer really earned his stripes while the Irish rebuilt from their 1988 championship. Mirer kept Holtz’s Irish relevant playing a huge role appearing in three consecutive “New Years Six” bowl games. Winning two of three, Mirer’s legacy at Notre Dame has him at sixth in passing yardage and seventh all-time for passing touchdowns.
#4 – Johnny Lujack – 404 TOTAL POINTS
With two national championships and a Heisman trophy to boot, Lujack landed high on the list of top quarterbacks in Notre Dame’s rich history. One could argue that Lujack could be credited with a third national championship, but fellow Heisman winner Angelo Bertelli gets the credit for the 1943 title.
Lujack’s stats would not jump off the page at you in modern college football, but he will still go down as one of the best – even if Bertelli was the “T” formation magician.
#3 – Tony Rice – 413 TOTAL POINTS
While Rice may always carry the “Prop 48” tag to Notre Dame purists, he did jump-start Holtz’s coaching career at Notre Dame. Rice finished his career on a 24-1 streak. And where he lacked in statistics, he made up with big play ability and excitement. Rice was a run-first quarterback which lead him to a 4th place finish in the 1989 Heisman voting. He was also the last quarterback to win a national championship at Notre Dame.
#2 – Tom Clements – 425 TOTAL POINTS
Between Joe Theismann and Montana fell a promising quarterback from western Pennsylvania. Clements burst on to the scene as Ara Parseghian’s final act. Clements did something rather remarkable in that he beat an Alabama team in a national championship.
Perhaps a bit tougher to do nowadays.
Clement does not boast any passing records for Notre Dame, but he did deliver 29 wins in 34 starts trailing only the aforementioned Rice in greatest win percentage of a Notre Dame QB with at least 25 starts.
In case you were wondering, McDougal had a better win percentage than both Rice and Clements, but the sample size was far less – only eleven games.
#1 – Brady Quinn – 444 TOTAL POINTS
Quinn blew away the competition despite a single ten+ win season, no national championships and not one single bowl game victory. He is atop the leader board of nearly all the major passing records.
First all-time in yardage and only quarterback over 10,000 career passing yards. Single season passing record of 3,919 passing yards. 95 total passing touchdowns with a single season record of 37 in 2006.
Not to mention single game touchdown record holder with six against BYU in 2005 & five against Michigan State – twice. One of those performances coming in the legendary 2006, 40-37 prime time comeback thriller against the then 12th ranked Spartans in a heavy rain. (I still have a copy on VHS)
The most impressive number of his career, though, 46. This was his number of career starts, tied with Powlus for longest tenured quarterback at Notre Dame.
Joe Theismann – 277 TOTAL POINTS
Angelo Bertelli – 248 TOTAL POINTS
DeShone Kizer – 241 TOTAL POINTS
Everett Golson – 238 TOTAL POINTS
All player stats derived from Sports Reference
Read, React, Interact!
I tried to keep it as unbiased as possible after seeing many lists not evaluate the complete body of work. With that in mind, it is not perfect. I would like to hear your top Notre Dame quarterbacks of all time, so feel free to drop it in the comments on my Facebook Page, or the thread on Twitter.